385. Central Intelligence Agency, Office of National Estimates, Latin American Staff Note No. 7–691 2

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  • The Trouble with Haiti...

The trouble with Haiti is that it cannot reasonably be considered a member of the hemispheric community, and yet there it is right in the middle of the muddle. The trouble with Haiti is that its leadership has been a succession of scoundrels, each of whom has driven the country further into primitivism. The trouble with Haiti is that it is barely a country, yet its expatriate and resident would-be elites demand that it be treated like one. The trouble with Haiti is that it won’t respond to anybody’s therapy. Yet if Duvalier should pass abruptly from the scene, Haiti’s trouble is likely to become a hemispheric problem—and this could mean intervention.

1. In September 1968 OAS Secretary General Galo Plaza sought the views of OAS members about how they would react to a collapse of public order in Haiti. The response at that time was generally the espousal of the non-intervention theme. Galo Plaza favored keeping the US out of Haiti during a crisis, and [Page 2] suggested the creation of a UN peacekeeping force made up of non-Caribbean Latinos. Now that President for Life Francois Duvalier has been under the weather,3 the whole problem about what to do “if” takes on greater meaning.

2. To estimate the aftermath of Francois Duvalier’s departure from power is a perplexing task. He has destroyed all institutions which might have provided for an automatic, if temporary, successor. The supply of administrative and technical talent in the country is severely limited arid diminishing. A few men who have worked with Duvalier in the past have recently been removed from key posts either because they threatened Duvalier’s hold or were unwilling to follow the directions of certain Duvalier family members who were trying to keep power in the family. Others will not grasp for power until they are certain the tyrant is dead or dying.

3. Rumors of coup-plotting by military officers have been common for some time in Haiti, but usually these have been generated by the interested officers in order to test the interests of the US. Their plausibility has increased recently only [Page 3] because we know little about Duvalier’s health. The existence outside Haiti of a substantial exile community with unknown loyalties and desires further confuses one’s views about what comes “after Duvalier.” New light may be shed on the succession question in the coming months, however, because Duvalier has been warned by his doctors to begin to delegate responsibilities if he wants to live.

4. The hemispheric reaction to a change in power in Haiti will certainly be conditioned by the relative calm or violence which attends the transition from Duvalier’s control. While an apparently calm change might not alarm any of Haiti’s neighbors, such an option seems no more likely than any other. The more violent the period of transition becomes, the more some countries (e.g., the Dominican Republic and Venezuela) are likely to look for some externally-imposed solution—if only for humanitarian reasons. Under such conditions, if the OAS or the UN could not be persuaded to act, the temptation for the US to step in might become very great indeed.

5. There would probably be no real benefit for the US in such an intervention (US business interests in Haiti are slight). But the obligation to protect the approximately 1000 US citizens [Page 4] in Haiti could lead to a scenario similar to that which prompted US intervention in the Dominican Republic in April 1965.4 This time, of course, the decision would be more difficult to justify—to ourselves and to others. Our Latin American neighbors abhor the idea of intervention for any purpose, either collectively through the OAS or the UN, or by a single nation. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia has now been added to April 1965 in the minds of many Latin Americans to stiffen resistance to arbitrary Big Power interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Finally, because we know so little about the prospective participants in a future Haitian crisis, the danger that the US would enter on the “wrong side” increases measurably.

6. The prospect of “losing” a Haiti to communism is more like a US policymaker’s dream of true justice than a serious possibility. Both Castro and the Soviets have about all the political and economic problems they can handle in relatively steady Cuba. Local Haitian communist groups have been crushed by Duvalier. The possibility that either Castro or the Soviets would support some faction in Haiti would probably be significant only if the US became directly involved.

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7. One side effect of a Haitian political crisis would be its potential to disturb the Dominican Republic. Historically the victim of rapacious Haitian generals, the Dominicans would undoubtedly stiffen security along the border (perhaps with special “low-profile” assistance from the US) to prevent any spill-over from Haiti. They would probably also be among the first to call for an OAS or UN peace-keeping mission. But, beyond that, they appear too beset with their own uncertain political fortunes to contemplate direct involvement in any post-Duvalier turmoil.

8. Even if some new person or group gains power in Haiti whether immediately or after some considerable maneuvering or bloodshed—we think a “Haitian condition” not unlike the Duvalier experience will persist regardless of any US action short of prolonged or permanent takeover. We see no chance that some form of Haitian “democracy” will emerge, since that system is beyond Haiti’s ken. When Duvalier goes there won’t be any happy Haitian Munchkins dancing in the streets of Oz to celebrate the death of the wicked witch. Most Haitians will be nearly unaffected by his passing, and are likely to remain equally untouched by his successors.

[text not declassified]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, O/NE Latin American Staff Notes, Job 79–T00968A. Secret; O/NE Distribution Only.
  2. CIA produced an estimate on the future of Haiti following President Duvalier’s demise and concluded that should the country destabilize the United States would stand to gain nothing through intervention.
  3. He reportedly suffered a heart attack a few weeks ago but has recently displayed himself again intact to gatherings in Port au Prince.
  4. Many of the US citizens in Haiti are missionaries and their family members who probably would not want to leave at e time of internal strife.